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First autonomous Hyundai coming in 2020

Self control: Hyundai is nearing the first production car autonomous features but says it will remain independent in its development as the technology advances.

Hyundai maps path to full level-four self-driving production cars by 2030

Hyundai logo21 Feb 2017

By DANIEL GARDNER in SEOUL

HYUNDAI has weighed into the autonomous car race with confirmation that it will offer the first stages of self-driving technology in its vehicles within three years as well as a more distant perspective that portrays almost completely driverless vehicles before 2030.

Like many global car-makers, the South Korean brand is forecasting the advent of its autonomous technology to be marked by vehicles that will first offer capability in simpler scenarios such as freeways, but will gradually evolve the systems to function in all situations, including more challenging environments.

Speaking at a demonstration in South Korea last week, Hyundai Motor Company intelligent safety research team senior research engineer Byungyong You told Australian media that the car-maker would roll out its autonomous tech gradually, introducing the initial levels by 2020.

“We are aiming for highway first and next we will expand it to urban driving conditions” he said. “I think level two and three.

“We are targeting for the highway in 2020 and urban driving in 2030. We are aiming for level four.

We are targeting 2030 for full autonomous.”

Vehicle autonomy capability is often described using a scale of one to five, with one represented by some of the active cruise control, emergency braking and lane-departure assistance features already available in many vehicles, while level five offers complete self-driving in all scenarios and conditions.

Hyundai predicts some of its cars to have achieved level four by 2030 which would enable owners to be chauffeured by the vehicle in all but the most difficult circumstances such as extreme weather.

However, it has not yet placed a timeframe on reaching level five.

“With level four there are limitations such as weather conditions and road conditions. We can limit in constraints but with level five there is no limitation,” Mr You said. “We are aiming for level five but our timeline is not there.”

The South Korean car-maker has been working closely with information technology partners such as Mobileye to expedite its autonomous cars, but is keen to remain independent in the race to production models.

“We do not want to depend full on Mobileye or the other companies,” Mr You said. “We can co-operate with them but we do not want to depend on them, so we are developing our own software.”

Over the coming years, Hyundai will start a number of public road trials in Korea, China and the United States, where it has already been exploiting changes in the state of Nevada to allow trials of autonomous commercial vehicles.

As for which models will introduce the technological advances, Hyundai says it is most likely to be higher-end cars such as the Sonata and sister models from Genesis, although any model could technically be equipped with the hardware and software.

“I don’t want all the vehicles to have those same sensors and the same configurations but I think the Genesis models and the Sonata has those sensors and they can drive autonomously. It can be divided,” Mr You said.

GoAuto was given the opportunity to experience some of Hyundai’s autonomous technology on a visit to the developmental epicentre of Hyundai and the Namyang proving ground in the country’s north.

On hand were a pair of testing and development vehicles that had been retrofitted with an array of sensors and computers to constantly monitor the vehicle surroundings, enabling it to ferry us on a lap of the sprawling centre without driver intervention.

A version of the new Ioniq sedan that is due to launch Down Under this year was one of the models that had been rigged with the special equipment, but we selected an autonomous ix35 Fuel Cell SUV – the same model that GoAuto drove in a 100km European emissions-free driving demonstration in 2015.

The first thing that is immediately noticeable about the mid-sized SUV is that, other than a bespoke and outrageously lurid green interior, very little appears to be different from the model that sold so strongly in Australia before being superseded by the Tucson last year.

A large screen in front of the front passenger offered a glimpse at what the world looks like to the series of computers with oncoming traffic, road furniture and even pedestrians represented by stick drawings and objects.

The self-driving Hyundai uses a combination of information sensed from its surroundings by lidar, radar and camera sensors, as well as pre-programmed information similar to a navigation system map.

Operating the vehicle is as simple as starting a regular ix35 Fuel Cell with the push of a button followed by starting the drive demonstration with another innocuous switch integrated into the dashboard.

With no pomp or ceremony, the SUV silently pulled away – with water vapour as its only emission – and proceeded to obediently follow a pre-planned route.

During the short 10-minute trip the engineer at the helm touched no controls and confidently allowed the car to brake for a vehicle that appeared that it was about to pull into our path and slowed for a pedestrian who wanted to cross the road.

If the system had a prevailing driver personality it would certainly be on the cautious side and reacted to a number of ‘hazards’ that most good drivers would not, including an oncoming Genesis that turned a bend and was clearly deemed to be on a collision course with our car.

A slight stab of the brakes was retracted when the offending car was no longer an apparent threat.

Throttle and brake application was occasionally abrupt but, generally speaking, after a few minutes we had forgotten the vehicle was being controlled not by flesh and blood, but by silicon and electrical signals.

And that is the acid test of infant autonomous technology. Rather than an edge-of-the seat nail-biting wait for something to go wrong, our short journey was relaxing thanks to a confidence-inspiring system that is passive in its nature.

The ix35 used for the test is three years old and the system incorporated into its existing electronics has been many years in the making, so one can only imagine how far Hyundai’s technology is advancing behind the walls of its vast test facility buildings.

The Namyang demonstration was a simple one in more controlled circumstances than real-world roads, but the successful, repeatable test proves that the bare bones of true production self-driving cars is not a pipe dream but a glimmer on the horizon.

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